NEW YORK -- Television journalists rushed to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut after Friday's mass shooting and quickly sought eyewitnesses to describe the tragedy -- many of whom were little children.
"Was everybody crying, scared, wanting their parents to come get them?" a CNN reporter asked a young girl in a parking lot, accompanied by two adults.
While it's a journalist's job to quickly get information from the scene of a crime, there's something unseemly about asking children -- perhaps as young as 5 or 6 years old -- to answer questions on camera so soon after a tragedy involving their classmates. More problematically, such interviews can add trauma, experts said, while possibly helping spread misinformation, given that young children can be unreliable eyewitnesses.
"Simply having a child for the sake of having a child on camera does nothing to advance the story," said Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. "Interviewing a small child whose understanding of death itself is limited, never mind who is confused and scared, can only contribute to the public's misunderstanding and contribute to the real trauma of the child."
Shapiro said he'd seem "some really irresponsible interviews" in the first hours after the shooting, with reporters pressing children for details and possibly helping to spread false information. He noted how in past shooting tragedies, myths -- like the so-called "Trench Coat Mafia" in Columbine, Colo. -- were quickly propagated by the media.
"As journalists, we do the public a disservice if we're trying to rush tidbits of information to air that are unverified, that create rumors, that create false understanding of terrible events," Shapiro said.
But providing inaccurate information isn't the only potential problem.
Emily Richmond, who serves as the National Education Writers Association's public editor, said that just because a child is "able to talk to you, doesn’t mean they're not emotionally traumatized."
Richmond noticed one TV reporter touch a child's back and ask if they were alright. "What do you do if the little girl says 'no, I'm not?'" Richmond asked.
Elana Newman, a psychology professor at the University of Tulsa, who has worked with the Dart Center, said that a young child "may understand that something bad has happened" and can describe something like a loud noise.
In the absence of other information, Newman said, a child's description may be useful. But fairly soon after the event, she said, "I don’t know what a child could offer at that age that one couldn't get from a police report in terms of details."
While some journalists who regularly cover schools may have experience interviewing children, many do not. (Richmond's organization is coincidentally holding a webinar on the subject on Tuesday and the Dart Center highlighted guidance for covering children and trauma on its home page Friday)
"I don’t think it is inherently wrong to interview children after a traumatic event like this," said Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute on ethics, reporting and writing. "But I think there are some caveats that a professional reporter should be aware of."
McBride suggested that a parent or adult be present whenever a reporter interviews a child under 12 years old, which would include any of the children attending Sandy Hook Elementary. She expressed frustration with some of Friday's coverage, with journalists asking children yes-or-no questions like, "Were you scared?" and "Was Everybody crying?" Young children, she noted, have a tendency to answer such questions with what they think the interviewer wants to hear.
"The other thing is that you can't really rely on children that young as eyewitnesses," McBride said. "You really want to interview them to get their experience, not help document what happened."
In addition, McBride said that children need more time to express themselves than a TV interviewer will provide. "You really have to allow for that dead air space where the kid is stumbling," McBride said. "That's how kids express themselves. It's not perfect, snappy TV."
And perhaps getting a quick TV sound bite from a potentially traumatized child isn't the most compelling way to tell the story anyway.
"I think this is where photojournalism is particularly powerful," Richmond said. "The faces of those children running behind their teacher probably tells us more than those children can verbalize at that moment."
BEFORE YOU GO
12/17/2012 4:43 PM EST
Details On Funeral And Burial Process
The president of the Connecticut Funeral Director's Association said the funeral and burial process for Newtown victims, which began Monday with the separate burials of Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, who both were six-years-old, is unlike anything he has seen before.
"I've unfortunately seen lots of kids who have died," said Pasquale Forino, 46, who runs Neilan Funeral Home in New London, Conn. "But this truly shakes your foundation to the core, and in a small town like Newtown, they need lots of help to handle this week of burials."
Forino and a group of morticians who have volunteered have driven to Newtown every day since Friday to help tend to families who are grieving and prepare arriving bodies for viewings and burials. The main funeral home in the town, Honan Funeral Home, is handling the process for 11 victims. Of those, Forino said he has worked on three -- all kids.
"It's not about me, it's about the families and victims. But it still affects us," he said. "We do what we can do to take care of the families. We'll deal with our own emotional needs later."
--HuffPost's Jaweed Kaleem
12/17/2012 4:42 PM EST
Officials: Local School Building Will Be Safe For Sandy Hook Students
Sandy Hook School students will be attending Chalk Hill School in Monroe, CT as an alternative education facility in the wake of the shooting. Monroe police answered questions during a press conference briefing about the preparations of the building for use by Sandy Hook Elementary School, and outlined how police officers will keep children safe and secure on their first day back to school.
12/17/2012 4:41 PM EST
Time to Rise Up and Say 'Enough' to Gun Violence
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, a New Jersey columnist urges people and politicians to fight for stronger gun control laws.
"Every time there is a mass shooting, we shake our heads and bemoan the tragic violence. We wonder aloud why our elected officials cannot stanch the flow of weapons. We rue the fact that there are so many troubled individuals out there, desperate for help and poised to commit terrible crimes, for no apparent reason. But nothing ever changes," she writes. "This holiday season, can we all rise up as one and say ENOUGH?"
12/17/2012 1:57 PM EST
NH Sen. Shaheen: 'We Need to Get Assault Weapons Off Our Streets'
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, issued a statement Monday in the wake of last week's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., saying it's time to get assault weapons off the streets.
"After a heartbroken weekend where the nation grieved with the families of Newtown, it's time for elected leaders to come together and determine what we can do to help end the culture of violence that is leading to these tragedies," Shaheen said. "We need a comprehensive approach that includes improving access to mental health services, better enforcement of our current laws, and we need to get deadly assault weapons off our streets."
12/17/2012 1:56 PM EST
NIH Study: Only 1/2 Kids In U.S. With Severe Mental Illness Get Treatment
A nationally representative face-to-face survey of more than 10,000 teens ages 13-18 turned up alarming findings about their access to professional mental health care.
Only about one-third of those with any lifetime mental disorder got professional help, and just half of those severely impaired by mental disorders received professional help, the study found. State and federal efforts to increase youth mental health services aren't working, it said. Racial and ethnic minority youth were least likely to get help, the study found.
-- HuffPost's David Wood
12/17/2012 1:54 PM EST
Crowds Forming at Services for Sandy Hook Victims
Via Newtown Patch:
Lines are forming outside funeral homes in Newtown, Fairfield and Monroe, CT as people assemble to pay their respects to three 6-year-olds who were among the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14. In Newtown, services for Jack Pinto, 6, are set to start at 1 p.m. In Fairfield, mourners gathered for services for Noah Pozner, 6.
A wake is scheduled today in Monroe for James Mattioli, 6. The three 6-year-olds are the first of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to be laid to rest. Funeral services for the other victims will take place tomorrow and Wednesday.
12/17/2012 1:53 PM EST
Westboro Baptist Church Member: Legalizing Gay Marriage 'Brings the Shooter Like it Did in CT'
The controversial Westboro Baptist Church has announced plans to protest outside of the Anne Arundel Circuit Court on Jan 2.—the first day same-sex couples will be able to wed there. "On that day the court starts committing that abomination that brings the shooter like it did in Connecticut," said Shirley Phelps-Roper, the daughter of the church's founder.
She also made headlines this weekend when she claimed via Twitter that Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter, was sent by God. She told Annapolis Patch, "God keeps sending the shooter."
12/17/2012 1:53 PM EST
AFT Urges Michigan Gov. Snyder To Veto Gun-In-Schools Bill
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and AFT Michigan President David Hecker on Sunday urged Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Sunday to veto legislation that would allow concealed firearms in schools and other locations.
The tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, is a “chilling and heartbreaking reminder” that “firearms have absolutely no place in our schools,” they wrote. “Gov. Snyder, please show the kind of leadership that students, families, educators and community members need to be as safe as possible in their schools. You can set an example for Michigan and the nation by taking this small but significant step to reduce gun violence by vetoing S.B. 59.”
View the letter here.
12/17/2012 10:23 AM EST
Small Acts Of Kindness
@ TVMarci :
Wow. Someone from CA just called the #Newtown General Store saying she wants to buy coffee for everyone in town. Every cup is billed to her
@ TVMarci :
Clerk @ #Newtown General Store started crying when woman offered to pay for every coffee purchased today. What an amazing #actofkindness
@ TVMarci :
This sign now hangs in front of the #Newtown General Store. Thank you, Tom Cabanaugh! #actofkindess http://t.co/DsLk5B2W
12/17/2012 10:20 AM EST
Police: Suspicious Person Puts Ridgefield Schools On Lockdown
Reports of a suspicious person at the Branchfield train station in Ridgefield Monday morning brought out police and placed all local schools on lockdown. Authorities, along with a K-9 unit, are canvassing the area after receiving a report of a man with an unknown item slung over his back. Police were first informed of the suspicious person at about 9 a.m.